Capture of a terrorist

Ocalan: Turkey brings Kurdish rebel back for trial, but still lags on minority's cultural rights.

February 17, 1999

U.S. intelligence hunting the elusive terrorist Osama bin Laden will eat its heart out at Turkey's pursuit of the Kurdish rebel Abdullah Ocalan from Syria to the Greek embassy in Kenya. His capture and return to stand trial for terror he organized from exile the past 15 years is a great feat of counter-terrorism.

It will help the center-left prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, politically in Turkey. It raises the confidence of the armed forces, who host the U.S. air base at Incirlik, which has generated a veiled threat against Turkey by Iraq. No wonder the White House welcomed the capture of Mr. Ocalan while denying direct U.S. involvement.

The apparent complicity of Greece is also positive. Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, have long been adversaries. Their natural sympathies on opposite sides of the Kosovo tragedy is the greatest danger there. Anything that brings the two countries closer is good for Europe and for peace.

But costly to Greece. Members of the Kurdish diaspora throughout Europe, loyal to Mr. Ocalan, launched attacks on Greek embassies and consulates yesterday.

All this said, the Turkish success underlines U.S. embarrassment when security interests conflict with human rights sentiments. Turkey's democracy does not apply to its eight million Kurds. U.S. concern for the Kurds' plight in Iraq does not extend to their cousins in Turkey.

The Kurdish people, straddling several borders, were promised national independence after World War I, then denied it by Turkey's revival and Britain's creation of Iraq to insure the flow of oil to the Persian Gulf. Turkey continues to suppress Kurdish schooling, print, broadcasting and politics.

Mr. Ocalan did not begin the Kurdish rebellion. He founded the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Leninist lines in 1978 and fled Turkey a year later. He reignited insurgency from exile in 1984, including atrocities against Kurds who did not go along.

Turkey has not exercised the death penalty recently and would be wise not to do so now. Its successes against the Kurdish insurrection can only reduce excuses for cultural and political suppression.

The capture of Mr. Ocalan will not end the human rights spotlight on Turkey's failings. His show trial will make that spotlight brighter.

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